Selling online gets easy

Ms Ankiti Bose is a co-founder and chief executive officer of Zilingo.
Ms Ankiti Bose is a co-founder and chief executive officer of Zilingo. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Website Zilingo aims to give the less tech-savvy a platform to reach buyers

Ms Vivien Leong loves selling her items on Singapore-based e-commerce platform Zilingo because she does not have to deal with customers directly.

The married 28-year-old, who sells women's clothing under the merchant name Ferlicious, says: "Administrative work (on Zilingo) is minimal because it handles customer service and inquiries. All I have to do is upload product photos. A courier from Zilingo comes to my house to pick up my packed orders for delivery."

She started using Zilingo in May last year. The website has more than 700 merchants from Singapore, including retailers such as Flesh Imp and The Authority, both of which have brick-and-mortar stores.

Zilingo was born when its co-founder and chief executive officer Ankiti Bose, who is from Mumbai, India, realised that many of her friends were travelling to Bangkok to shop at markets such as Chatuchak. She saw an "obvious opportunity" to bring the markets to them in the comfort of their homes.

Ms Bose, 26, adds: "The problem in the rest of South-east Asia is that a lot of these sellers do not have a meaningful online presence - they don't have credit cards, bank accounts or even good Internet access.

"Go out of Jakarta or Bangkok to the rural areas and there are tons of sellers who have very good stuff they can sell to buyers in their country or even to those in Singapore, but they are not online."

Ms Bose quit her job as an investment analyst at venture capital company Sequoia in 2015 and launched Zilingo in Singapore the following year. The website's name refers to the "zillions of products and people uniting to transact on the platform", she says.

Her co-founder and chief technology officer, Mr Dhruv Kapoor, and the company's team of engineers are based in Bangalore, India.

Zilingo also has offices in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and India.

It is serving seven markets, including Malaysia and Australia.

The platform focuses on selling fashion, accessories and jewellery and vendors are either regional designers, brands or merchants, whose inventory may include international brands.

"We do not sell fakes or accept re-sellers," says Ms Bose. "And we do not curate the style or designs because we want to have a wide variety so that we can reach out to as wide an audience as possible."

Zilingo currently has more than 4,500 merchants, compared with just a hundred in its early days.

One challenge Ms Bose faced then was convincing sellers to come on board because they were concerned about being paid on time.

She says merchants receive their money within seven days of making a sale. Zilingo takes a 15 to 20 per cent commission from the sellers.

The company also had to do a lot of hand-holding for merchants who were new to e-commerce. Zilingo sent weekly reports to merchants on how well their products were doing and what they could do to improve sales.

"It was a crash course on e-commerce," says Ms Bose."We had to teach them how to transact online and use online analytics. We sent them reports every week, telling them what was old or what they should be stocking more of."

Her efforts are paying off.

Sales have grown 20 per cent month on month. Singapore accounts for 30 per cent of Zilingo's monthly sales.

Ms Bose says: "One of our sellers in Hong Kong started off being completely non-tech savvy and now, about a year later, he has a really well-managed online store. He is selling not only on Zilingo, but also on Facebook, Instagram and other platforms."

As for Singapore sellers, Ms Bose says they are "a bit more advanced" and also "have the edge of being Mandarin- and English-speaking".

On how Zilingo stands out from other online shopping platforms such as Zalora and Megafash, Ms Bose says: "I love their products, but they are coming from the demand side and trying to sell to customers. They are trying to make more people buy online.

"But they are not going after the Asian suppliers and building a localised product for them to sell online. So I think that differentiates us from our competitors."

Picks from Zilingo's local merchants

Wince hoodie for men, $65, from Flesh Imp

Kith in Grey curd, $28, from Frameyewear Singapore

Inez embroidery romper, $28.90, from Topazette

Canvas pouch with print of zebras, $5.10, from AgoraMart

Luna crescent clip in gold, $9.90, from Glory and Gold Singapore

Dappled pink two-way tie, $49, from Assemble Singapore

Abigail button-down dress,$139.90, from Apparella

Blue shirt (worn as overshirt on model), $49, from The Authority

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Selling online gets easy'. Print Edition | Subscribe